The government in 1984 does everything possible to make our experience of reality subjective and ephemeral. Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth altering historical records to conform to the Party’s ever-shifting version of history. (He would be working today at The Washington Post – see here.) The ease with which history is changed by the Party is an extreme form of the nominalism described by Lewis in The Abolition of Man. Nothing is solid or permanent; there is no way to anchor our opinions or muster much conviction about what we believe – which is exactly what the Party desires.
Is the human person a being designed to live eternally? Is the human being an end in itself or only an artifact to be used by those with a stronger will for ends chosen by the strong? Is the human person just an in-between creature that is in the process of evolving toward something else? What is our
telos as human beings? What value do people – qua people – have? All politics develops a set of answers to such questions and different visions of human nature result in widely varying visions of society and the role of the State. We are now engaged in a deadly struggle for human politics against the forces of totalitarianism in which an oligarchy claims the right to organize society according to its preferences using ordinary individuals as pawns in their will-to-power games.
I have long pondered whether
Brave New World or 1984 was more plausible as the fate of the West. But just the other day it finally dawned on me that the right answer to this question is not one or the other: it is both! We are headed to Brave New World by way of 1984. They are not alternatives but sequential steps in the fall of the West. In Brave New World war has been abolished but there are scattered hints of a series of vicious, violent wars in the period between our era and the time of the novel. One of the central questions that often occurs to readers is what could ever induce the entire population to give up human freedom to the Controllers? The savage, John, clearly sees that to do that is to surrender one’s essential humanity. Why didn’t everybody see that and refuse to go along with the re-organization of society? The answer is the wars.
Central to modernity is the marginalization of the church. A central myth of the Enlightenment, which was used to justify the secularization of society the relegation of the influence of the church to private life, was the myth of religious violence. This myth was symbolized by the Wars of Religion, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. (This myth says that wars are caused by religion, whereas the State is innocent.) Only extreme and seemingly endless war could ever create the extreme conditions necessary for the Controllers to be able to take absolute power and create a “Utopia” of free sex, drugs, and ceaseless entertainment. In our day there are far too many people who simply would not surrender all freedom easily. Many are doing so, clearly, but not all. Force will need to be applied. The stubborn ones will need to die. Violence will have to become so widespread that anything will seem better if it just stops the violence.
This means that war is inevitable. It means that the road to
Brave New World runs through societies that look like 1984. And that means that Hitler and Stalin are not one-off monsters of our past, but prototypes of future tyrants to come. There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that totalitarianism must destroy liberal democracy once Christianity and classical metaphysics have been thoroughly rejected. Given that, what good news could there possibly be? Only that as long as people have the desire to resist being treated like cattle, there is a possibility that tyranny can be beaten back. But the catch-22 is that the very violence necessary to defeat the tyranny corrodes the morality and the character of those who seek freedom. If the war is long enough and desperate enough, the temptation to embrace comfort and mindlessness becomes practically overwhelming. And the possibility of turning into the evil we fight is a clear and present danger at every step along the way. The Hope of the Gospel
This is why resistance to the coming fascist tyranny that is taking shape before our very eyes today is useless unless it is motivated by faith in the Good, the True and the Beautiful – which requires faith in God. Unless there is a revival of Christianity in the West, there is no hope of avoiding a dystopian future. Only the Church, sustained by the hope of resurrection in the gospel of Christ can be a resistance movement that can put freedom and human dignity above even the preservation of life itself. The key to the survival of liberal democracy in the West is the much-maligned, very weak, highly-compromised church. Nothing but revival can save us now.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).